Review written by Steve Shaw, all photos taken by Frank Baldé
Barry Threw and Jon Rose’s presentation of the K-Bow was concise and entertaining, making an amusing duo who also adequately explained through practical demonstrations the abilities of the controller.
The software and hardware of the bow were exemplary in their self-sufficiency. The software provided enough DSP processing objects to create interesting performances ‘out of the box’, as well as such effective additions as a simple four track looper, phase vocoding audio scrubber and surround sound panner, all freely assignable. It also provided the option to have all controller data routed to third party applications via MIDI and OSC. These were all simply and effectively displayed in user-friendly formats and graphics – a strength for any consumer product.
The hardware itself I can only comment on in a limited capacity, not being a string player. However, to me the bow seemed no heavier nor clumsier than a wooden one, the sensor box attached to the frog was not overly obtrusive and the carbon fibre construction seemed a good choice. Assignable controls include a grip sensor, accelerometer data, ultrasound and axis positioning.
Personally, I found this package very positive and I’m sure it will inspire many others to even a profound level; it encompasses many aspects of both musicianship and technology effectively, taking the performer into considerations at every stage, and usability as a top priority. However, I do feel that the most successful use of the tools would be through restraint and the consideration of specific techniques and musicality.
I found the video segment of STEIM software in extreme environments to be oddly placed in the programme for the night- something I sensed in other members of the audience who had come, I suspected, to see the K-Bow in action. I think perhaps the audience would have been more receptive to seeing a short solo performance by Jon utilising a variety of the software’s capabilities, putting into context the examples we had been shown. This would also probably have made more sense for the concert overall.
The second half’s line-up of Richard Barrett, Cor Fuhler and Jon Rose together was an interesting one, and the equipment set-up was also intriguing; Rose would be utilising the K-Bow, Barrett was performing with LiSa, MIDI keyboard and fader box with ribbon controllers, but most surprisingly, among Fuhler’s analogue set-up of amplified sound objects was an EMS Synthi AKS utilising custom-built ‘palm wheels’ to control its parameters. The trio therefore possessed an inherent mix of digital, analogue, and physical sound production methods including raw synthesis.
The trio’s performance took about ten minutes to pull together, but once this was achieved the results were tight and well controlled, passing through more prolonged violent streaks, dense noise and waves of activity into quieter, rhythmic and even whimsically jazzy stages. Sometimes I felt the number of elements was too much, but overall the performance was successful and developed well.
Rose’s use of the K-Bow ended up being quite sparing, which I felt was a good thing on an aesthetic level, and allowed for some really nice moments where the sound opened up to something more ‘traditional’. However, I suspect there may have been some technical problems during the latter half of the performance, as it was not used at all, and I had seen Rose trying to activate it through gesture unsuccessfully for one section.
It was an interesting night but, as said before, it would have perhaps been better if there had been a solo performance from Jon Rose, followed by a shorter group show to give a more balanced show of the K-Bow’s capabilities and applications.